If Donald Trump tries privatize the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs, he won't be getting any help from Bernie Sanders. Days after a senior official from Trump's transition team told reporters that the president-elect is considering a partial privatization of the VA, Sanders called the Trump proposal "an insult" to the millions of veterans who rely on the agency for health care services, and said the VA needs to be strengthened, not privatized.
"We think we have to have kind of a...public-private option, because some vets love the VA," a senior official from Trump's transition team told reporters Wednesday. "You know, in the federal government, it's hard to break things up and start over. So, those are the types of things that people are talking about."
The official didn't go into details about what this plan would look like. Presumably, though, it would be something along the lines of the VA reform proposal that Trump unveiled in October 2015, which would give veterans the option of seeking health care at private service providers as well as VA facilities.
Sanders, however, isn't having any of it.
“Privatizing the VA would be an insult to the more than 22 million veterans who risked their lives to defend our country and it would significantly lower the quality of health care they receive,” Sanders said in a statement. “Our goal, shared by The American Legion and other major veterans’ organizations, must be to improve the VA, not destroy it.”
The VA is a notoriously inefficient agency. In 2014, news broke that many veterans were forced to wait months to see a doctor, and according to one report, 40 of them died while waiting for appointments. All of this culminated in the resignation of VA Affairs chief Eric Shineski in May 2014.
Sanders, who sits on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, initially defended the agency amidst that scandal, but he eventually changed his tune and called for it to be reformed.
However, he opposes Trump's pseudo-privatization proposal, and that makes sense. In addition to his affection for the VA itself, Sanders is a self-identified Democratic Socialist. This means, in part, that he strongly believes in the government's ability to provide services to citizens, and is resistant to proposals that shift these responsibilities to the private sector.
All of this underscores once again that comparisons between Trump and Sanders are facile at best and ridiculous at worst. Yes, both are old white men who campaigned on ending corruption, but that's about all they have in common. Trump's plan to privatize the VA is a classic Republican proposal, and Sanders' opposition to it is fully in line with his brand of Democratic Socialism. If anyone out there was hoping for a Trump-Sanders alliance, they're about to be sorely disappointed.